What is a URL?
When creating a new website we often forget the important role our URL plays. URL is the abbreviation for “Uniform Resource Locator”. It directs people and software to your website specifically.
It’s what identifies your page and is the first thing most people and search engines see when looking at your website.
URLs are made up of four components: protocol, domain name, subdirectories, and page name. Here’s an example of a made up URL:
- HTTP is the protocol. It stands for “Hypertext Transfer Protocol”. It’s the set of rules used to transfer files online. Every time you open a Web browser, whichever it may be, you’re using Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Some links don’t appear with HTTP but as soon as you go to the actual website, the HTTP will be in the address bar.
- The domain name is what identifies your website. It is your unique address on the internet. It could be the name of your company or something close to it. It is very important that the domain name is understandable and gives an idea of what your website is all about. It helps if the customer or search engine can have an idea about what your website has to offer before even clicking on the link.
- Sub-directories are the folders that you create within your site. It could be blog, about us, Frequently Asked Questions, or, in the case of my example, products. There is no limit to a number of sub-directories that you can create, but make sure they are all relevant and necessary for the function of your site. You don’t want to make it complicated to navigate. You also don’t want to make the URL to lengthy.
- The page name is the specific name of the page you are utilizing. Let’s say I sell t-shirts on my website, my page name could be t-shirts or to be more specific here is an example, http://www.mywebsite.com/products/t-shirts/female that would take you to the t-shirts for females.
Does my URL affect my SEO?
The first thing search engines have access to is the URL, so it does affect your website’s SEO ranking. The engine takes a look at all of the components of the URL and usually ranks highest the least lengthy ones with less “noise” and more relevance to the topic being searched. In this case short and sweet wins the race.
If you are starting to launch your website, choose a well-structured URL to kickstart your ranking. If you already have a website and are looking to increase your ranking, changing your URL might not be the best idea.
When you change the URL it will be like starting from scratch. You will lose your ranking for a while. If you have a good ranking, maybe try keeping the URL unless it is absolutely necessary for you to change it.
You do not want to lose the audience you have gained for a couple of letters off of your URL. In these cases, there are other alternatives to help you show up first on search engines.
What makes up a good URL?
To help your SEO ranking, your URL should be readable and as short as possible. There are a couple of tips that I can give you to get you started on your URL:
- NEVER include strange characters like @, %, $, &, and #. These create too much noise and make it hard for search engines to identify what the website is all about. Let’s not forget our audience, when people see a long link with many strange characters they immediately think it is not a safe site to visit and stay clear of it. We have all ignored these types of links.
- Use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_). Search engines do not separate the words when we use underscores. For example, .com/about_us translates to “aboutus” as one word, but .com/about-us translates to what we want it to, about us. The underscore will just confuse the search engine and never allow you to get the ranking you want. Underscores basically do nothing but hurt your SEO.
- Use keywords. Make sure your URL gives a good idea of what your website is about. This way people won’t question if they should or should not click the link.
They will right away have an idea about your website and know if it is what they are looking for. Also, try not to overuse your keywords. You do not want to look like spam.
- Keep it short and sweet. Long URLs usually seem suspicious and take longer for search engines to consider. These are some things you can try out to reduce the length of your current URL:
- A good way to reduce length is to avoid excess words like the, and, or, and etc. These words don’t contribute to the main idea of your site and make your URL unnecessarily long. If removing them makes the subject confusing or hard to understand, keep the ones you need the most, but try to remove the ones you really don’t need.
- Having long URLs is suspicious and having many subfolders contributes to that as well. This does not hurt your SEO but reduces the number of visits coming to your site. Try to keep it under 4 subfolders if possible.
Remember that your URL isn’t the only thing that affects your SEO ranking. There are many other factors that could contribute to your rank.
Your URL is the first piece of information to be detected by search engines. Try improving it with the tips given provided. If keeping your URL short and sweet like we discussed before is not enough, our SEO services could be just what you need.
If you want more detailed information about how URL can affect SEO, check out Dominic Woodman’s take on URL structuring.